Village Rockstars is a coming-of-age film set in rural Assam in India. Dhunu is a nutty, bright girl who runs around with the boys of her village and dreams of one day owning a guitar. She and her friends are part of a pretend-rock band where they play instruments cut out of foam core.
The film follows Dhunu playing in the fields with her straw hat, often getting shamed by village elders for climbing trees and behaving like a boy. But the protagonist is unfazed – and so is her mother. The single mother is encouraging of Dhunu’s playfulness and larger-than-life imaginations despite what other people have to say. While Dhunu’s foam core bandmates often undermine her for being a girl, her mother fosters her ability to dream big, inspiring her to start saving for a real guitar.
The film’s seeming plotlessness mimics the idyllic Assamese landscape. This is a story that is pastoral in its essence. Dhunu embraces the mundane pleasure of dancing in the rain, of feeling the humid breeze in her hair, and of smelling fresh petrichor. Filmmaker Rima Das (re)creates with care the famed Indian monsoon that is as mystical as it is destructive.
Soon, Dhunu’s dreams are abrupted by the seasonal floods which destroy all the crops and drive the local farmers into hardship – including Dhunu’s mother. She can barely pay rent, let alone purchase a guitar. Yet, slowly but surely, the film shows the mother-daughter duo emerging from such catastrophe with strength and goodwill.
The story of Dhunu and her mother’s aspiration for a real guitar is a resilient one. It is transformative without carrying the rebellious voice common in the Western tradition of coming-of-age dramas. This is a quiet film that highlights the merits of having a nurturing relationship as opposed to a controlling one. Rima Das crafts the rich interiority of a mother and daughter’s love through the sound of their exterior landscape. Dhunu’s dreams are as free as the cloudy monsoon sky while her mother’s reality is grounded by the water eroding off the riverbanks. This is a film that asks the viewers to cherish the pristineness of girlhood in slow, long, rhythmic breaths.
Sarah Shahid is a freelance writer and journalist based out of Toronto. She writes about South Asian cinema, art, and visual culture. Her works have been featured in Hyperallergic, The Daily Star, and Wear Your Voice and she has worked as a fact-checker at HELLO! Canada. She tweets @I_Own_The_Sky.